‘Catch Me if You Can’ Conman Divulges Identity Theft Prevention Tips

Catchmeifcan_bookcoverFormer con artist Frank Abagnale knows first-hand how easy it is to assume another person’s identity, and he’s now devoted his life to helping others avoid getting duped.

Abagnale’s story is well-known: From the ages of 15 to 21, he assumed identities as an airline pilot, physician, lawyer, and others. His story was depicted in the 2002 hit movie Catch Me if You Can, starring Leonardo Dicaprio. Abagnale, who was eventually caught and imprisoned, became a consultant for the FBI for more than 40 years fighting fraud and crime.

“Your most important job is to protect the data that is entrusted to you by your client,” Abagnale told a crowd during RISMedia’s 22nd Annual Power Broker Reception on Friday night during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago. You also need to be vigilant about your personal information.

Abagnale offered up tips for safeguarding against identity theft:

Shred everything. Anything with personal information on it—even a magazine with a sticker that contains your name, address, and source code—should be shredded. “All a true identity thief needs to become you is your name and ZIP code,” Abagnale said. “What you may think is worthless is of value to an identity theft.” A traditional shredder that cuts items on the vertical or crisscross, however, can be assembled by FBI agents within 30 minutes; so, expect criminals can do the same, Abagnale said. Instead, use a micro-cut shredder, which turns paper into pieces the size of rice that cannot be put back together.

Don’t write a lot of checks. Your name, address, phone number, bank’s name and address, account number at that bank, routing number into that account, and your signature are all contained on a check. Then, a clerk might write your state driver’s license number and date of birth on it too. “Anyone who sees your check could potentially wire money out of your account,” Abagnale warned.

Only use a credit card—not a debit card. The safest form of payment: A credit card, he said. If someone takes your credit card and makes a charge, you can contact the credit card company, and your liability is zero. Your card will be canceled and you’ll be issued a new one. But when a debit card is stolen, a thief could withdraw funds directly from your account that will be difficult to get back. What’s more, when you use a credit card and pay your bill every month, your credit score goes up. A debit card does nothing for your credit score, Abagnale said.

Watch what your social media accounts say. On Facebook, for example, never divulge your date of birth or where you were born, Abagnale warned. Avoid having a profile photograph that is taken of you from straight-on, like a passport photo would be. Remember, anything you ever post, even if deleted, can always be retrievable. “There’s way too much information about you in the world,” Abagnale said. “We just keep giving people more and more about us, and then we wonder why they steal from us.”


Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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